I’ve mentioned before what a disappointment it is to have lost the original staircase. Had it been retained, I’m sure our plans for the house would be drastically different. Like most old houses with awkward winders, we would have likely put in a straight staircase somewhere in the back room for practical purposes. Even so, most of our current plans revolve around the need for a new staircase that can’t have more than a single winder and will push into the back room.
Our architects SW and LS agreed to work within code, designing a staircase with minimum width, minimum run and maximum rise in order to limit the impact of the new straight run on the back room – though we’ll still have to live with an angled bulkhead. The new stairs should accommodate at four-tread winder with an additional step at the base, with a narrow straight run that leads to a comfortable landing on the second floor.
Because we can’t have a double-winder, it doesn’t make sense to maintain a solid paneled wall beside the straight run of the stairs. R is also thinking a banister will allow slightly more room for mattresses and other furniture to be moved between floors. In the end we’re aiming for something like this – an example from my old house in Kingston. Even though there are only three winders, no extra step at the base, and the spindles have a clunky Victorian sensibility, it’s pretty close to what we think the end result should look like.
I dug up the English Georgian example above in a Google search that I think we’ll use as our template for the new stairs. The proportions are slightly more refined than the Kingston example, and the details look more appropriate to the age of the Gorsline house.
Since the space is so small we have no option but to go with custom stairs. However, even though the treads and stringers will be new, that doesn’t mean we don’t have the option of injecting some salvaged building parts to give it a historical look.
On a trip to Balleycanoe & Co., east of Kingston, R and I found this blue painted railing that is nearly identical to the one that was originally in the Gorsline house. Unfortunately, we couldn’t figure out how this could be integrated with the new stairs since all the examples of banisters with newel posts (which we need for the corner of the winder box) have round railings – and ours will need to join with a straight railing that runs along the side of the stairwell.
There are lots of excellent salvage operations in Ontario, like Balleycanoe, but after visiting four of the best ones, we still could not find something we liked that was in keeping with the design of the house. I found the newel post above at Nor’East Architectural Salvage in New Hampshire by browsing their online inventory. The block-and-column is a departure from the rudimentary square railing that was originally in the Gorsline house, but it looks like a good complement to the restrained Regency details in the front entry.
A second option is a vase form newel post – the one above I found at Architectural Salvage Inc., also in New Hampshire. This particular example has a button cap that connects to the railing. The block-and-column example has a nice button cap too, but the railing joins the post at the block. Also, the vase newel is slightly more primitive, and given the simple joinery of the original stair railing, the vase newel might be a little closer to the mark.
In my limited experience, I’m used to seeing the block-topped newels on staircase landings, and the vase newel posts always at the base. Although the image above is from a house in Boston that’s been mucked around with a bit, it makes the relationship of each newel post type clear.
Although both R and I have a sweet spot for the simple column newel, I think we’re going to follow our instincts and use the vase newel.
We’re extremely happy with the solutions SW and LS came up with, but will still need to make some minor adjustments. R isn’t keen on the jog in the railing on the second floor, and I’m a little concerned about the railing being able to wrap around a 90-degree corner while rising the equivalent of 5 steps. I think we’ll integrate the newel with the corner winder post (as it is in the English example above) and do away with any complicated turns in the railing from there.